Guns and sails and what they did

Cipolla, C. M. (1985). Guns, Sails and Empires: Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of European Expansion 1400-1700. Manhattan, Kansas, Sunflower University Press.
This excellent study documents how the evolution of artillery (many, small and flexible guns) and naval shipbuilding (oceangoing, maneuverable, guns in hull, non-imposing) enabled the Europeans – particularly the English, Portuguese and Dutch – to expand their empires at the expense of the Arabs and Chinese, who used different technologies that could not be removed without disturbing social order and power relationships. A stellar example of the disruptive technology process at work – comparable to Barbara Tushmann’s A Distant Mirror or James Utterback’s description of the Norwegian/New England harvested ice industry (in Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation), not to mention Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. Highly recommended.

To admit the new role of field artillery in battles of movement and to adopt new strategies accordingly, the Mamluks had to sacrifice the role and prestige of their feudal cavalry, namely the social position and prestige of the dominating class. This in its turn presupposed the disruption of feudal structures and a profound social revolution for which the kingdom was totally unprepared. Before accepting Western techniques, the Chines had to undergo “a wholesale change of the world-view, a Copernican revolution of a minor order”. Powerful socio-cultural factors were opposing the assimilation and diffusion of Western technology. In Europe the situation was vastly different. The European knights of the early Renaissance nourished ideas in regard to fire-arms which were not different from those of the Mamluk horsemen, but by 1500 European affairs were coming more and more under the control of new social groups that had a taste for organization rather than splendour, for efficiency rather than gallantry. And such groups could count on an increasingly numerous class of craftsmen with a taste for mechanics and metallurgy. the very factors that had originally favoured the development of the new technology continued to operate and fostered its further progress powerfully: as has neen indicated in the previous chapter, European shipuilding and manufactur of ordnance moved rapidly ahead during the centures that followed the first direct contact of the Portuguese with the peoples of Asia.
     It has also to be said that with few exceptions, when an innovation is first introduced, its advantages over established traditions are not always very obvious [my emphasis]. The first European field guns were certainly not conspicuous for their efficiency. The attitude of the Turks toward early field artillery, as the attitude of the Venetians toward the early galleons, cannot be simply discarded as a piece of human stupidity. At their first appearance, innovations are less valueable for their actual advantages than for their potential of future developments and this second quality is always very difficult to assess. [my emphasis]
     The result of the interplay of all these and other factors and circumstances, whatever their respective weight, was one and unequivocal. After the end of the fifteenth century the original “disequilibrium”between Europe and the rest of the world grew larger instead of levelling out. And for the less “developed” countries things turned progressively for the worse.” (pp. 130-131)